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Physical Therapy Month: What do Physical Therapists Treat?

When I tell people that I am a pediatric physical therapist I am often met with a blank, questioning stare. Why could children possibly need physical therapy? When most people think of physical blog-physical therapy-month-main-landscapetherapy, they think of recovering from a back injury or shoulder surgery, or maybe they think of someone in a nursing home going through rehab after a stroke. However, children can often benefit from the services of a physical therapist as well, from newborns all the way through adolescents. Pediatric physical therapists focus on the gross motor development of children, and work to address any limitations that may impact that development.

Pediatric physical therapists therefore work with a wide range of diagnoses and conditions including:

  • Gross motor delay: Development of gross motor skills is an important piece of child development. Since these skills build on one another, a delay with one skill can lead to further delays or difficulty with later skills. Pediatric physical therapists can help your child develop the major gross motor milestones listed below, as well as many more!
    • Rolling
    • Sitting
    • Crawling
    • Standing
    • Walking
    • Running
    • Jumping
  • Torticollis and plagiocephaly: Torticollis is a condition that occurs when there is asymmetrical muscle length and strength in a baby’s neck muscles, and therefore limits symmetrical neck motion. Plagiocephaly, or asymmetrical head shape, often occurs when a child has torticollis, as a result of frequent pressure being put on only one part of the head. A pediatric physical therapist can help to stretch and strengthen the child’s neck in order to promote symmetrical motion and head shape.
  • Balance and coordination disorders: Limitations in balance and coordination can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to develop motor skills, as well as to safely negotiate his or her natural environments. A pediatric physical therapist can treat these limitations to allow for improved functioning and safety.
  • Neurological disorders: A neurological disorder occurs when there is abnormal functioning of the body’s nerves, spinal cord, or brain. These are just a few of the disorders that a pediatric physical therapist can treat.
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Spina bifida
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Spinal cord injury
  • Orthopedic conditions: Children get hurt too! Even though children tend to be more resilient to injury then adults, children who suffer an injury or require surgery can also benefit from physical therapy services to help restore function to the musculoskeletal system.
    • Post-injury
    • Post-surgery
    • Scoliosis
  • Genetic disorders: Genetic mutations may result in impaired development and functioning in children, and can therefore be addressed through intervention with a pediatric physical therapist. While there is a wide range of genetic disorders and their resulting impact on child development, below are a few examples of genetic disorders where a pediatric physical therapist is typically a part of the child’s team of providers.
    • Down syndrome
    • Duchenne muscular dystrophy
    • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Gait abnormalities: The way a child’s lower extremity bones and muscles develop have a large impact on the child’s gait mechanics. Abnormalities with gait, such as toe-walking, can be addressed by a pediatric physical therapist.
  • Many more! If you are unsure of whether your child may benefit from the services of a pediatric physical therapist, speak with your pediatrician or reach out to a pediatric physical therapist near you.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood,Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Colleen McCloskey

Colleen McCloskey

Colleen McCloskey is a graduate of Marquette University with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. While in Milwaukee she spent a few years serving as both as a volunteer and as a student PT serving children from all over the Milwaukee area with a wide variety of physical therapy needs. Before beginning the physical therapy phase of her education, she completed her undergraduate degree at Marquette University in Athletic Training. Through the athletic training program, she participated in numerous internships with Marquette’s varsity sports teams, as well as with a local high school. During her physical therapy education at Marquette, Colleen took part in the Advanced Pediatrics elective, which provided her with opportunities to observe and work with pediatric patients at a number of local inpatient and outpatient pediatric physical therapy clinics. She also completed a research project on the effects of music in pediatric physical therapy, and was given the opportunity to present her findings to a group of physical therapists that work in the Milwaukee public schools. Colleen is passionate about working with children and their families to help them overcome any physical challenges that prevent them from doing the things they love. Outside of work, Colleen loves spending time hiking, running, skiing, snowshoeing or biking with her husband and dog.

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